Day 4: Where to begin?
Day 3 was an overwhelming day for all of us to say the least - there were so many mixed emotions, filled with so many overwhelming highlights, it's difficult to comprehend, let alone know where to begin... Standing up and singing our national anthem among the Dutch and Canadian citizens who had travelled from all over to be here, feeling of the spitfire that roared over our heads at just the perfect moment...the children who swarmed around our veterans - their heroes - hugging them and thanking them for what they had done long before their time for a chance at a better life over three generations later, the helicopter that soared over us dropping poppies by the thousands, the pipe bands from all across Canada marching and playing together in unision as our veterans Frank & Bud danced in the middle while waiting for our coaches to turn up - everything about today will truly last in our memories for a life time.
The Commemoration at the Canadian Military Cemetery in Holten
Glenn tried to prepare us for what we would see on our drive through Holten. The houses down the road had their Canadian flags proudly hoisted, some with posters and signs marking their love for our country and our people. That, in and of itself was a delight for us to see. Glenn spoke first of the CWGC, the commission especially set up by the commonwealth to organize and maintain the 23,000 cemeteries holding the 1.7 million war dead in over 153 countries. The Holten Canadian Military Cemetery is a staggeringly beautiful example of the tremendous effort put forth by the
Glenn emphasized everything that the CWGC strives to accomplish in the 100 years it has lended its service and explained just how massive the entire operation was to keep these cemeteries immaculate - their mission being to never let any of them fall upon neglect. Over $15 million is required to keep each and every cemetery in the pristine condition of which they are in - 10% of the funds are provided by Canada. Each headstone must be a permanent placement, stating the name & uniform of each fallen soldier, regardless of race, creed, or military rank.
The cleaning and maintencance is meticulous - the architecture is awe inspiring, and 100 dedicated employees see to it that it stays that way. Filling of the soil, trimming the grass to the exact measurements required...you can follow the headstones exactly and notice the striking white rows, with a perfect curve set in exactly the same place of each grave. With the bustling of all the buses, people of all outfits, uniforms...pipe bands, and school children, you may have thought we too were caught up in the excitement - and we were - until we got to the entrance of Holten. It was then, that many of us stood in awe. Glenn was right. We needed to be prepared.
A few graves we visited before the ceremony
Glenn wanted to pay a special visit to a few graves - the first one he took us to was that of Omer Vincent. Glenn originally had met Omer's family who didn't have to tell Glenn what kind of pain and grief they had suffered when Omer, who was shot just a mere few weeks before the end of the war, on April 13th 1945 - tragically, it had been his birthday.
Omer was the youngest of 11 brothers and sister, who had left for the war at the age of 19. After surviving throughout the entirety, he had been shot while attempting to capture a German gun post, a volunteer mission, one Bella says, he had chosen to do. Bella, his sister, had recieved the telegram, and Glenn, after meeting Bella, honoured her by visiting his grave whenever he travels with us. She had only been 12 years old at the time, but had read the news first.
Upon her return home, pondering how she would tell her mother, she learned quickly that she didn't have to...upon looking at her daughters face, her mother had already known. That had started a cry she had never heard before, one so heartbreaking that weeks later, when it ceased to stop, Bella, only 12 years old had to leave home, staying with friends, unable to take the constant howls of pain and suffering, a sobbing her mother couldn't control.
Bella showed Glenn two phtograph's when she had met him - one of a woman, a shocking resemblance to Bella - this was indeed her mother. The other however, was a completely different woman - with hair like straw, an ashen face, and a body that had taken on too much. Bella confirmed that it was still her mother, a picture taken only a mere fews weeks before and after they had recieved the telegraph.
After telling us that, Glenn looks out, and we look with him at the 1300 more graves. Just how many other mothers, wives, sisters...how many of them suffered from the same devestating grief. ___________________________________________________________________
(Picture Below: The telegram Bella had recieved)
[Caption: Dear Mrs. Vincent, it is my unpleasant duty to inform you, that your son ... was killed in action April 13 1945. He died instantly as a result of bullet wounds in the head. A burial service which was attended by all his comrades was held and he was inturred close to where he died near Zutphen Holland. His body will be moved to the permanent Canadian cemetery and you will be notified of the location of his grave. Your son and the other men attempted to capture a German machine gun post and unfortuneatley your son and another man were killed. Although I have not known your son very long, he inthat time proved time and time again a capable soldier well liked by all his comrades, In closing I and the remainder of the unit offer our sincere sympathy to you and the members of the family.]
If you'd like to see the full article Glenn has brought about Omer, you can by clicking here.
On the right, you will notice the headstone for P. J. Moran, who had served under a fake name, A.T. Pollock. It's strange to come across these graves - but they're not uncommon. Many men strived to get involved they would do almost anything - even fake their identity to get there to help serve their buddies. P.J. Moran had died on the 5th of May, 1945, the very day the Netherlands had finally been liberated to freedom.
On the top: Glenn takes a moment to stop at the graves of Winfred Lilian Brewster and EJ Brewster after getting through their unfortunate story. They had been killed on their way to their honeymoon, after four long years of struggle through the war, the couple celebrated the liberation, were married, and celebrated only one day together in happiness. They are now buried side by side in Holten. On the bottom: Their graves, side by side. Their story, I think, had touched us all individually.
Some more pictures from the Commemoration Ceremony Today
Surrounded by lush green forests, quiet comments amongst us mentioned a likeness to Canada's beautiful landscape - the difference? The soft & fertile Dutch soil. With a country below sea level, the spongey earth meant that in preparation for the Commemoration hundreds of steel plates had to be put down in an attempt to keep our coaches from sinking as we travelled down the road to the cemetery.
A profound speech we listened to in Dutch during the Commemoration. We didn't know it at the time, but our Battlefield travellers Gord & Sandy by chance had managed to obtain the english translation for us to read afterwards during our lunch. What an important, and moving speech for us to be apart of. I encourage you to read through it, as we did - although directed to the children, the words were vital for us to absorb.
Posters, flags, streamers, stickers, and people waving - all thanking our country and our veterans who helped free their country as we drove past. What a proud and monumental moment for all of our Canadians to see.
^ I've never seen so many markings celebrating our country - and in such a breathtaking town. A true honor to see on our way in and out of town. When everyone stood up to sing our national anthem, I as a Canadian, found that I too was overwhelmed.
^ Surprise appearance from Prime Minister Stephen Harper. You can listen to his speech, which I have recorded and will post here in a few days time.
^ Canadian Robert Green shaking hands with the hundreds of Dutch children, each with a warm thank you for saving them before their time. How extraordinary it is that these men can see the future they created for these children, three generations later. Truly a blessing to witness.
^ I managed a picture with Canadian veteran Robert Green, who had given a rather spectacular speech during the commemoration in Groesbeek the day before. Again, I have it recorded! Playable by request!
And now, for one of my favorite parts of the ceremony - a helicopter, flying overhead, to drop thousands and thousands of poppies during the ceremony. I get goosebumps, even looking at the pictures. What an awe inspiring thing to see in real life.
^Followed by the children of Holten running, to place a poppy on each and every one of the 1,380 head stones that dotted the cemetery. ___________________________________________________________________ Peter caught one, and is looking tall and proud (he's pretty tall)
___________________________________________________________________ Manitoba native & a proud supporter of the Jets Earl McLaren, hands out Canadian stamped pencils and pins to all of the Dutch children just before the ceremony.
After the ceremony - we took a visit to the John Frost Bridge - A bridge too far - to hear the incredible story of the fight and bravery - this bridge used to look very different 70 years ago, but has been rebuilt - with their original steel beams, with its gates and barracks painted deep burgandy red - to represent the red berets of the men who gave thier lives here.
I got to spend a little more time with George Skerkowski today at the bridge. During the struggle at the bridge to Arnhem, George at only 17 years old, found himself in the tremendous struggle that was the Battle of the Scheldt. Little food, with only a rare chance to sleep an hour here of there, the battle of the Scheldt was one of the toughest as I hear of men constantly exhausted, against mind boggling odds. I pour through history books afer our conversation. He has seen many things, and has led an extraordinary life - truly. He might rather talk about the better times today, but he has seen things that I cannot even imagine - I can't believe that I get to talk to such a hero like George, no matter where our conversation takes us. He survived against all odds and is here with us today - 70 years later. We've been blessed to have met him. Many came to speak with him, as the Dutch saluted and hugged him, many many pictures were taken!
^ We stand proud with George Skerkowski. You can keep your batman and spiderman. I have George. And I get to shake his hand. ___________________________________________________________________
We drive over the bridge too far ^ I love this picture because I get a really great reaction from Bud Weeks in the rearview mirror!! What a very different scene we see today from all of those years ago. ___________________________________________________________________
__________________________________________________________________ Our last stop of the day - a visit to the Market Garden Memorial.
Here is a short video of Glenn explaining to us all the significance of the memorial and the mission that the British Airbourne had under gone. Truly fascinating - shocking, and breathtaking. And I've heard the story before!!
Of all they could say about the British Airbourne troops - and nothing more.